Thursday, October 7, 2010

Malloy the Veteran, Foley the Rookie?

Remember the old Adam 12 police series with Martin Milner and Kent McCord? I'm reminded of that old show every time I hear the name Malloy (the surname of Milner's character): "Malloy the Veteran, Reed the Rookie," intoned the announcer.

The namesake of Milner's character, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dannel Malloy (didn't his parents know how to spell "Daniel?") was trying to convey the same impression of his opponent, Republican businessman Tom Foley, in this week's debate at The Bushnell.

Malloy repeatedly asserted that, as the longtime mayor of Stamford, he had the political experience to lead Connecticut through its worst financial crisis in 20 years, while Foley is headstrong, untested and would not no know how to navigate the complicated and turbulent waters at the State Capitol.

And on some levels, Malloy's probably right. Foley is a business executive unaccustomed to the give-and-take of political life. He has an interesting past and is no doubt used to getting his way. Frankly, he sounds like a jerk. Then again, it's hard to be successful as a turnaround artist who shakes things up and have a low sense of self-esteem.

I consider myself undecided in this race. But I can tell you one thing. The only way we will ever get out of the hole we're in is to get concessions from the public-sector labor unions. Here's a good place to start: it's widely known that in the state of Connecticut (and in many other states as well), state employees' pension benefits are largely determined by what they earn — plus overtime — in their last two years on the job.

So what does a typical state worker do who's nearing retirement? They pile on the overtime their last two years — often with the support of their supervisors. Then their retirement benefits are artificially inflated, causing the state pension system's unfunded liabilities to balloon to the point of unsustainability. Right now, those liabilities are around $30 billion — and this is a small state.

Malloy certainly gives the impression of competence, but he has the backing of almost all the public sector unions. Would he be willing to look the union bosses in the eye and tell what they don't want to hear, namely that the overtime scam has got to end? "When the next contract is up for renegotiation, retirement benefits will be determined by your base salary in your last two years, not the inflated total that includes overtime."

In addition, we must move state employees to a defined contribution plan similar to what private-sector workers have. There is considerable resentment among workers in the private sector that their retirement benefits decrease when the financial markets perform poorly, while state government workers continue to drain the treasury at previous levels even as revenues decrease during an economic downturn.

As  Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele has repeatedly said, over the past two decades, personal income in Connecticut has almost doubled — but state government spending has nearly tripled. Connecticut's government has outgrown the taxpayers' ability to pay for it. We are California writ small.

I ask you: which candidate is most likely to pursue the necessary reforms to close a projected $3.4 billion budget gap next year and even more beyond? A veteran politician endorsed by the unions or a hard-nosed outsider?

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